Most cars are born to be forgotten. The Daewoo Matiz, for example, is a perfectly serviceable hatchback but it’ll never be passed down the generations or wind up on display at the V&A. Cult cars are a rarity but the Ford Mustang is definitely on the list.
Perhaps more than any other car it represents freedom: It was – at least in its original 1965 guise – cheap, handsome and joyful. The very mention of it conjures images of road trips through Monument Valley, of Marlboros smoked in truck stops and trysts in the car parks of college campuses. But, for the most part, it was a strictly American dream. In Britain we have been the recipients of so much American culture, be it multiplexes, barcodes or breakfast cereal. Yet this year is the first in its five decades that the Mustang has been let loose, officially, on UK roads.
The first right-hand-drive Mustang promises the grunt and attitude of a car costing twice as much. You have two models from which to choose; the £30k hardtop or £34k convertible with a 2.3 litre Ecoboost, which delivers 314bhp, 0-62mph in 5.8 and 35.3mpg or, for £4k more, the 418bhp 5.0 V8 GT, also available with or without a roof, which does 0-62 in a much sprightlier 4.8 seconds and a more American 20.9mpg. For the soundtrack alone, please choose the V8, even though this will put it in the same tax bracket as a Lamborghini Aventador. This is meant to be a muscle car and a muscle car without a V8 is like a burger that’s all cheese and no meat.
I’d driven the four-cylinder convertible in its pervious guise, the less aggressively-styled mk-V car, and I did it the way most visitors to the United States have experienced Mustangs before – by picking it up at the Hertz counter at LAX. The convertible is synonymous with rental, and I had a stirring time soaking up the sun as I weaved along Mulholland Drive, yet it’s a sporty car not a sports car. For cruising it’s just dandy but if you’re on a mission like Kowalski in Vanishing Point you need a hard top and a lumpy hood.
No surprise then which car I made a beeline for when I landed at Munich airport to sample Ford’s newest import. The people at the blue oval had mapped out a route that included limiter-hitting Autobahns and twisty b-roads and the folks of Bavaria, with their curious penchant for handlebar moustaches and cowboy boots, promised an approving audience.
Autobahns terrify me. The unlimited stretches are punctuated with road works and regular speed limits, and slower and decelerating traffic up ahead, or cars moving into the outside lane without studying their mirrors, requires one to constantly cover the brake. Red lights up ahead send a chill down your spine.
The last time I gunned down a German motorway in excess of 155mph I was an inch off the ground in a Lotus Exige S and the bumps in the road caused my vision to blur. In the ‘Stang things are much calmer even though the scenery is coming at me just as fast. The four wheels are planted, the suspension is firm but it doesn’t jitter too much. It’s not the most comfortable ride but the bumps won’t put you into the central reservation. The engine makes a sturdy growl, and there’d be plenty more to come were it not electronically limited.
We stop off at a shloss in the small town of Aying south-east of Munich, home of the Ayinger Brewery, which gives me a chance to walk around the car and take it all in before we continue to our destination, the pretty lakeside town of Rottach-Egern, where Ford have laid on such typically American fare as hotdogs, popcorn and a pool table built out of a mk-I ‘Stang body.
The outgoing mk-V car was an homage to the 1960s original; sporty in a cute way like, say, Maria Sharapova. This mk-VI, with its stretched eyes and beefy bumpers, looks more like an MMA fighter. It’s not as pretty, but it promises a bigger punch. A few of its cues are taken from the third generation 80s model, which was pretty white-trash then as now.
The GT, like its ancestors, is a macho automobile with no pretentions. If you like eggs benedict for brunch then take the Audi S5, because the pony car is a plain and simple bacon sandwich and all the more rewarding for it. The best sports cars are unfussy, just as breakfast shouldn’t require cutlery.
The controls are satisfyingly chunky. The three-spoke steering wheel with the Mustang logo in its centre feels like a 70s Detroit throwback; the dashboard looks like one of those Toughbooks the military carry round to initiate drone strikes. Switch off the Electronic Stability Control (ESP) and feed the throttle and you’ll witness more smoke out of the rearview mirror than a major explosion. If the word ‘doughnut’ makes you think of bald Firestones rather than sugary treats then this car will satisfy your craving.
There isn’t a huge amount of finesse in the way it deals with corners compared to, say, a BMW M235i, and there’s not a lot of steering feel, but the engine brings so much joy that the driver adopts a slow-in-fast-out style that rewards the ears. The way the car rolls in the turns and the rear squats and the bonnet rises under acceleration is all part of the muscle car charm. New independent rear suspension has improved the handling immeasurably, however. With ESP on, the car can still kick its tail out but it needs some heavy-footed provocation and is fundamentally well sorted, no doubt in large part to the limited slip diff that’s standard on UK cars.
In terms of raw grunt, the Mustang can embarrass cars costing twice as much, but there are similarly-priced German offerings that offer better handling and build quality. What the Ford has over them is attitude. It’s a car that stands out and delivers a message; one of rebellion. And if you’ve ever hankered after a Mustang but can’t get your mitts on one of the fast-appreciating mk-1s then this is the one to get.
This 2015 Euro-fettled model isn’t the most capable sports car nor a very luxurious GT but it is a fantastic Mustang, and if you enjoy the sound of gargling thunder and shredding tyres it’ll leave you with a big grin.